IN THE years just before and after the Great War the Preston railways and tramways firm of Dick, Kerr & Co. made its name throughout the Commonwealth. But from the 1920s the firm became famous throughout the UK for its successful women’s football team.
Most folk of a certain age know of Dick, Kerr’s team’s exploits but few know that ladies football was thriving more than 20 years earlier, towards the close of the Victorian era.
And East Lancashire was at the forefront with matches attracting big crowds at venues such as Darwen, Burnley and Bury.
Thousands turned up to watch the strange spectacle but the reporters were more concerned with what the young women wore rather than the standard of play which was reckoned to be pretty abysmal.
In recent years ladies football has really taken off and thousands of youngsters play competitively to a high standard, dressed much like young lads who fancy themselves as the next Ronaldo or Messi.
It was in late 1894 that an enterprising lass, Nettie Honeyball, formed the British Ladies FC. She didn’t hang about.
The girls played all over the country and in one busy fortnight early in 1895 they played seven matches in all sorts of weather, roared on by crowds who found it all very amusing.
On April 13 they played at Gigg Lane, Bury, watched by 5,000, and then at Newcastle and two days later they performed at Darwen’s Barley Bank ground in torrential rain.
Two days later they were in Doncaster and next day they were in Grantham.
On the Saturday they piled on to another train and turned out at Burnley’s Turf Moor ground where the crowd was over 2,000. Not surprisingly they managed to field only nine a side for the match “before they adjourned to the Bull Hotel at the junction of Manchester Road and St James’ Street for something to eat,” reported the local paper.
What did they wear? Victorian England was not ready for women dashing around in shorts so they sported a combination of voluminous blouses together with knickerbockers or a divided skirt. Something akin to cricket pads and light boots completed the ensemble.
No doubt the lasses took the game seriously – unlike the Press. The Darwen News reported that play consisted mainly of players “running about without any fixed purpose.”
Of, course the crowd – mainly chaps –roared every time “a gentle creature found her way into a pool of water.”
Their reporter concluded: “We will not trouble our readers with a detailed account of the match, for a more miserable exhibition of football we have never witnessed.”
Fair enough. But would Ronaldo or Messi manage seven games in two weeks?